Jays fans hopefully will show more class than boo birds here

John Steadman

July 26, 1993|By John Steadman

How the Orioles are received -- either with vocal animosity or polite restraint -- may make for a study in contrasts when they make their grand entrance in Toronto tomorrow night. Are they to be booed as a payback for what happened in Baltimore at the All-Star Game or will they receive the silent treatment? Why not the keys to the city?

The question is pertinent considering the way the Toronto Blue Jays were insulted while being introduced at the All-Star Game in Baltimore. Will Toronto retaliate or will it merely turn the other cheek in a demonstration of high-class propriety?

Baltimore and Toronto teams have been playing each other going all the way back to 1903, through the flu epidemic and even during two World Wars, when both were members of the International League. The rivalry was spirited, fueled by two legendary managers, Dan Howley and Jack Dunn. Both cities were to ultimately ascend to the top level of baseball's social standing, the major leagues, and have enjoyed success.

When the boo birds opened up on the Blue Jays, as the starting All-Star lineup was announced, the visiting players' faces showed expressions of shock and dismay. They couldn't quite put it together.

After all, this was a glorified exhibition. Baseball's finest players were assembled for an evening of fun and excitement, and the Toronto representatives were being treated as if they had been responsible for polluting Chesapeake Bay.

That Baltimore turned its hostility on the Blue Jays was interpreted by some as merely a good-natured tease, a playful shot at the opposition, or the way it used to be when the New York Yankees showed up in Baltimore. After all, the Yankees were rich, builders of a dynasty and what really hurt was the fact the franchise had actually been stolen away from Baltimore in 1902 and re-established in New York.

Toronto's All-Star delegation didn't deserve the negative reception it encountered. Toronto, only two years ago, had been cordial to Cal Ripken Jr. when it hosted the All-Star Game and the Orioles shortstop won the MVP award.

There seems to be more tolerance in Toronto than what might be found in Baltimore, which was once known as the epitome of "Southern hospitality." At the World Series, Toronto reacted in exemplary fashion after a Marine color guard inadvertently marched around Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium carrying the Canadian flag upside-down.

It could have been interpreted as an international incident, but Toronto charged it off as human error and never made an issue of the gaffe. Will the Blue Jays partisans continue to show such calm or fire back at the Orioles with ridicule similar to what their players were subjected to here?

In Baltimore, bush conduct isn't new. During the late International League days and Baltimore's return to the American League, there was a ritual of waving handkerchiefs at a rival pitcher who was knocked out of the box and made the long, woeful walk to the dugout. It was termed the "Baltimore Farewell" but the natives couldn't actually claim it to be of their origin since it had been purloined from the Mexican League.

The gimmick didn't lose its favor until it was finally agreed the handkerchief exit was (1) a bad reflection on Baltimore and (2) it created a chance situation of contaminating the crowd with cold germs.

Now, in another repulsive act, the fans continue to chant "Os" for Orioles in the national anthem line that begins, "Oh, Say Does That Star-Spangled Banner Yet Wave. . . " The Daughters of the American Revolution haven't issued a policy statement on the practice but they should.

Cito Gaston, the Jays' manager, took the All-Star demonstration personally and, in a fit of vindictiveness, refused to bring in Mike Mussina, who happens to be an Oriole, to pitch the ninth inning or even a part of it. Meanwhile, the fans were crying, "We Want Mike...We Want Mike." But Gaston was saving him in case the National League rallied from a six-run deficit. What foolishness.

The Toronto skipper could have turned the jeers to cheers by giving the Baltimore public what it wanted. Meanwhile, Mussina was warming in the bullpen, which only heightened the frenzy. Was it a blatant attempt to show up Gaston? All Gaston needed do was bring in Mussina to deliver one pitch and it would have appeased the crowd.

He would have transformed himself from a villain to a hero. Baltimore was guilty of striking the match that started the emotional fires, but Gaston poured on gasoline that spread the flames. Now the citizens of Toronto will decide, by their deportment, whether the ugliness is compounded or put to rest.

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